How to Take 18 Credit Hours Per Semester (and Not Hate Yourself)

At many colleges, 18 credit hours is considered the maximum course load that you can take per semester. Most advisors suggest only 15-16 credit hours per semester, but sometimes you need to cram in a few more hours to be on track. Here’s how to succeed while taking 18 credit hours — without having to give up your sleep or social life.

Plan, plan, plan.

Sit down and plan everything out — on paper, on Google Calendar, on whatever works best for you. Write down the times you have classes each day and where they are, and try to include a buffer of at least 15 minutes before and after each class for travel time. As events, deadlines, etc. come up, put them on your calendar immediately. You may think you remember that you’re grabbing lunch with a friend on Friday, or that you have an assignment due, but more often than not your memory will fail you, and that’s not a good spot to be in.

Balance easier classes with more difficult ones.

Your schedule should include classes with a variety of difficulties, according to your personal strengths and weaknesses. If math and science aren’t your strong suits, don’t take Physics and Calculus at the same time. Try to variate your schedule by taking classes spanning different subjects. (Check out what classes I’m taking this semester for an example.) Not only will this allow you a bit of a brain break from taking all hard classes, but it will prevent you from mixing up material between your classes, which may occur if you take similar courses at the same time. For STEM students, it is recommended that you only take one lab course per semester if possible, since those courses are so time-consuming and complex (and no one likes being in lab for nine hours a week.)

Schedule your study sessions.

Now that you’ve filled out all your obligations, block off an hour or two to study a specific subject at a specific place. By including this on your daily schedule, it feels more like an obligation, and so you will feel more inclined to study than just having a few free hours with no structure. Try to include specific things to do during each study session, such as “do economics chapter 4 notes” or “finish chemistry assignment.” However, make sure you don’t schedule every hour of the day, or schedule things down to the minute — that will do more harm than good, as you’ll get stressed out and easily thrown off track and will likely end up being less productive than before.

Track due dates religiously.

When you’re taking so many credit hours, it can be easy to lose track of due dates for assignments. Try setting up reminders on your phone or calendar as a back-up so that you don’t forget to turn in your work. I like to set due dates a couple of days in advance, so that in case something happens and you forget to do your assignment or have technical difficulties, you have a safety net and will still be able to turn it in on time.

Make time for fun.

Often, this is the first thing to go when trying to handle a crazy schedule. However, if you do all work and no play, you’ll burn out quickly and painfully. I stick to the rule of treating myself to one nice thing each day, such as watching an episode of my favorite show or getting lunch with a friend. Making time for socializing and relaxing keeps you sane and keeps your grades up, too. (In fact, one of my good friends is in a social sorority, and whenever she went out to a mixer or other social event the night before an exam, she did better on average than if she stayed home and studied the night before — and that’s actually not as weird as it seems. Check out my article on taking back-to-back classes for more on how spaced studying helps you learn better.)

Know your limits.

Even though you may think you can handle 18 credit hours at a time, sometimes things come up that can prevent you from succeeding — no matter how good you plan, or how disciplined your study sessions are. There’s no shame in dropping a class because you took on too much and realized you needed to take a step back. It’s much better to drop a class halfway through the semester and do well in the rest of your classes than to stay in it and barely pass — or even fail.

Last semester, I had a lot of personal issues arise that affected my ability to do well in my classes, and I ended up dropping from 18 credit hours to 13. Though I was sad to drop those classes, I ultimately did much better in the classes I had left, and had more time to care for myself and work through my situation. There’s no shame in dropping a class if you find that you’re overwhelmed by work. It’s much better to do well in 13 credit hours than to barely scrape by or fail 18 credit hours, both for your GPA and your health.

Those are all of the tips I have for surviving an 18 credit hour semester! As always, let me know if you have any comments or concerns, and have a great week.